Gianforte Calls on Congress to Unlock Montana’s Public Lands
WASHINGTON – Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte took to the House floor today and called on Congress to act to increase public access to Montana’s public lands.
To watch the video, click here.
Last week, Gianforte introduced legislation, the Protect Public Use of Public Lands Act and the Unlocking Public Lands Act, that will increase access to public lands, empower local communities, and do the work Congress should have taken care of nearly 40 years ago.
The bills implement recommendations by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to release more than 690,000 acres of Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) in Montana that the agencies found not suitable for wilderness designation and return them to BLM and USFS management.
Gianforte’s remarks as prepared:
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to draw attention to Washington inactivity that has locked up hundreds of thousands of acres of Montana’s public lands.
In the 1970s, Congress designated over a million acres in Montana as Wilderness Study Areas. The U.S. Forest Service and BLM were charged with determining whether to include them in the National Wilderness Preservation System.
By the early 1980s, the Forest Service and BLM made their recommendations, but Congress did not act at the time. Now, nearly 40 years later, Congress still hasn’t acted, and those study areas are still locked up.
Mr. Speaker, last week I introduced the Unlocking Public Lands Act and the Protect Public Use of Public Lands Act. These bills will release nearly 700,000 acres of lands found not suitable for wilderness designation and return them to Forest Service and BLM management.
County commissioners, state legislators, and impacted communities support this overdue action.
Congress is about 40 years late in unlocking Montana’s public lands and increasing public access to them. It’s time to finish the job.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I yield back.
Background on Wilderness Study Areas:
Congress designated Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) in the 1970s. The legislation instructed the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to study the areas and determine whether they should be included in the National Wilderness Preservation System.
By the early 1980s, USFS and BLM made their recommendations to Congress. All recommendations for the WSAs were to designate the areas as non-wilderness or partial non-wilderness. Congress granted itself the responsibility to act on the recommendations from the USFS as well as BLM and release the WSAs.
Nearly 40 years later, Congress has not acted on the USFS and BLM findings.
Montana Wilderness Facts and Findings:
- 16,893,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service lands
- 8,060,382 acres of Bureau of Land Management lands
- 6,290,437 acres designated as roadless areas in Forest Service lands
- 3,443,038 acres of designated Wilderness
- 1,104,874 acres in Wilderness Study Areas
Background on the Unlocking Public Lands Act:
The Unlocking Public Lands Act would release all or portions of 24 Wilderness Study Areas, comprising over 240,000 acres, that the Bureau of Land Management found not suitable for wilderness designation by 1980.
The Unlocking Public Lands Act may be viewed and downloaded here.
Background on the Protect Public Use of Public Lands Act:
The Protect Public Use of Public Lands Act would release nearly 450,000 acres that the U.S. Forest Service has found not suitable for wilderness designation in the early 1980s. The locations and approximate areas to be released include:
- 151,000 acres comprising the West Pioneer Wilderness Study Area
- 32,500 acres within the Blue Joint Wilderness Study Area
- 94,000 acres comprising the Sapphire Wilderness Study Area
- 81,000 acres comprising the Middle Fork Judith Wilderness Study Area
- 91,000 acres comprising the Big Snowies Wilderness Study Area
The Protect Public Use of Public Lands Act may be viewed and downloaded here.